The University of Wisconsin took an important step this week to rebuild communication with dairy industry donors following the revelation of a 32 percent cost-overrun for the proposed new Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin.
The nation’s dairy industry generously and swiftly raised $18.4 million in 2012 and 2013 for the strategic purpose of elevating the US to the top tier of worldwide dairy research efforts. But in June, the University of Wisconsin quietly revealed a budget-busting design and a proposal to eliminate one-third of the new Center to cut costs.
The plan to build an all-new Center for Dairy Research alongside Babcock Hall at the University of Wisconsin in Madison has been attached to the simultaneous plan to renovate the aging dairy plant within Babcock Hall. It has always been an uneasy, but necessary, conjoining of two tasks. And when dual projects are proposed with one over-arching budget, communication of objectives, scope and limits is crucial.
The University did not create or nurture clear communication to the donor community and the dairy industry at large.
The result is a process that saw
costs balloon beyond the initial scope of work, which failed to flag rising costs over time and proposed project cuts without communication to the dairy industry or discussion of the impact of cuts on project objectives.
Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association pressed for and gained a meeting August 3 in Madison to open communication between the University Chancellor’s office and dairy industry donors from across the nation.
“The Center for Dairy Research represents the future of our industry,” one donor told University leadership. “This is our legacy to the generations to come.” Another stated, “The Center was proposed to attract the best talent in the world to Madison. Without that, we have not achieved our objective.”
Michael Lehman, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration with the University of Wisconsin, informed donors that he will lead a fresh look at the project’s design, and a series of weekly design meetings will begin August 5.
Donors requested, and were granted, the opportunity to include two representatives at these crucial meetings.
In dialogue with Mr. Lehman and University officials, donors expressed the purpose of industry giving and reminded the University of the scope of work stated in official project documents. In these documents, the old dairy plant was to be renovated in place, but the current design finds an all-new dairy plant built even into part of the new building planned for the Center for Dairy Research. Rather than renovated, the old dairy plant features an all-new observation deck, new loading docks, coolers, freezers, equipment and new rooms for the ice cream dipping store.
To keep this reborn dairy plant intact, the design team proposed in June to remove one-third of the total square footage of the new Center for Dairy Research. “When you speak of balancing objectives,” one donor told the University leaders,” You must consider the relative importance of an international Center for Dairy Research and a dairy plant that serves your campus.”
The Vice Chancellor committed to reviewing all options and industry donors made it clear that to meet the objectives of the US dairy industry, the design (now 15 months behind schedule) may need to be fundamentally redrafted.
“Donors will be consulted again and you will be able to weigh in on the design; you will participate in the decision,” Mr. Lehman said.
He proposed another group meeting in 30 days. Donors suggested a conference call August 8 for an update on the first design meeting. Communication and communication alone will rebuild this project.
As one donor stated: “I want to be as proud of the outcome of this construction as I was with the swift fund-raising in the dairy community.” JU
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at
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